Pop Francis

Doctrine and Catholic dogma aside, the reason Pope Francis is so popular is because he behaves in a way we want all Christians to behave. Even secular journalists would like Christians to behave like he does.

Alison Swihart

No one can deny that Pope Francis genuinely loves his people and lives out, to the extreme embarrassment of most evangelicals, the humble, compassionate life that Christ would have us all live.

But many of his adoring crowds go home and say, “How wonderful is our pope. He is a gift from God. We are so blessed,” instead of, “Woe is me. I must repent and turn to God and eternally serve him with all of my being.” This gentle leader of millions does not teach his followers that Christ requires all people to be born again. Until he does, he is merely a pied piper.

Leta Wilson
Homosassa, Florida

Sorry, Tertullian

I appreciate the wisdom and historical helpfulness of the report titled “Sorry, Tertullian,” which reported that persecution does not necessarily create more conversions.

The one thing I wondered is whether Tertullian had in mind church growth as we know it. Persecution has a way of purifying the church, which does draw people in. I will never forget the wisdom of well-known Nigerian mission leader Panya Baba. After sharing with our staff about persecution, martyrdom, and churches being burned, he said, “Be careful how you pray. The persecution is purifying the church.”

Perhaps those are the kinds of churches—albeit small—we will find some day in the United States.

Greg H. Parsons
Global Director, US Center for World Mission
Pasadena, California

O Subtle Star of Bethlehem

While the report “O Subtle Star of Bethlehem” was interesting, I would like to advance what I think is a much sounder explanation of the phenomenon related in Matthew’s gospel: The star was a manifestation of the Shekhinah glory. The Scripture is clear on two salient points: “the star went before them” and “came to rest” (2:9, ESV). This indicates movement. Where else do we see this? Exodus 13:21, which tells us the pillar of fire led the Israelites. This concept is not original to me, but I have seldom seen it expounded.

Barton Campbell
Richmond, Virginia

Interesting. But the Orthodox Church holds, and has always believed, that the star was an angel.

Matt Karnes

Under Discussion

In answering “What was the best news of 2014?” Eric Teetsel says World Vision revoking its policy that would have allowed them to hire someone in a same-sex marriage was “Christianity at its best.” What? Not according to Jesus. Jesus summed up the Jesus Way (“Christianity at its best”) as, “Love God with your whole [being]” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

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Did anyone stop to consider, “What does it mean to love my gay Christian neighbor as myself?” My heart breaks for our gay sons and daughters who grew up in the church, who love Jesus and want to serve him, and who have been told, “You are unworthy to serve Jesus with the rest of us.”

Neta Jackson
Evanston, Illinois

Open Question

I read with great interest your three views asking which forgotten Christmas traditions churches should revive. I like the ideas of lighting the property, using some kind of play to reenact the first Nativity, and observing 12 days of celebration.

I am a Baptist from a rural community in the Southwest. My heritage is replete with revivals, camp meetings, and a general distrust of anything liturgical. What would I revive? The liturgy.

During a time when we hear “remember the reason for the season” ad nauseam, my liturgical brothers and sisters have a fantastic idea: celebrate Christmas for four weeks, starting right after Thanksgiving and leading up to the Sunday before Christmas. Hang the greens. Put out the Advent wreaths. Light the Advent candles. Read the appropriate Scriptures in worship. I can’t think of a better way to keep our eyes fixed upon Christ at this time of year than to simply, noncommercially, remember the Advent.

Andrew Payne
Midlothian, Texas

The Contender

What a wonderful article about an amazing man. I’d give an arm or a leg or perhaps even a kidney to have a library like that of lawyer Mark Lanier. And it’s all dedicated to his love of learning. So many wealthy people waste their money on frivolous junk, but he has spent his wisely. Kudos to him.

Matthew Bade

Have Yourself a Merry Kitschy Christmas

It bothers me to see so much negativity in the Facebook comments regarding “weird” Nativity sets. Doesn’t the Word say to do all unto the glory of God? Doesn’t it say that God alone knows the heart? Who’s to say these Nativity sets can’t glorify God? They could be an idol for people, but anything can if you make it so. The bizarre crèches can also be used for good. Paul said he was happy the gospel was being spread, even if from wrong motives.

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Romans 8 says that God works all things for good for those who love him. Let’s use all the things we can, including our artistic abilities, to bring him glory.

Ian Nash

Jingle Bell Jesus

As a church organist, I’m nevertheless glad to see Amy Julia Becker’s daughter Penny gets a charge out of “Jingle Bell Rock,” as excerpted from Small Talk. And I understand Becker’s questioning why “the spiritual world and the physical world must remain in distinct spheres.” Her examples of Nutcracker figures under the tree and molasses spice cookies are indeed causes for thanksgiving.

But there’s something more to be said. A refreshing dip in a beautiful lake is also a cause for thanksgiving. Indeed, it may be attended by a powerful spiritual experience. But no matter how powerful the experience, one still needs to be baptized. The natural and the supernatural orders—though not entirely separate—are nevertheless distinct.

As Penny grows up, she may find that “Jingle Bell Rock” continues to be fascinating. But it must surely be her mom’s hope that Penny enter the wonder of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

John Harutunian
Newton, Massachusetts

Humdrum Hallelujah

Megan Hill’s testimony resonated with me: I am this woman! I grew up a pastor’s kid and never had that “aha” moment. For a while, I too felt like my testimony was less amazing than others’.

Thank you for publishing this story. It’s an encouragement to people like me and to those who may become like us.

Erika Flores Siems

Net Gain

Responses from the Web.

“Nice to see this trending, but sad to lose a legend.”
Poppa SoSouthern @SoSouthern504
Remembering Andrae Crouch, Dead at 72,” by Robert Darden.

“Sometimes we know so little about people to whom we owe so much.”
George Richardson @ga_richardson
Past Imperfect: “Red Cross Bearer,” by David Neff.

“An interesting article in the leading evangelical Protestant magazine that’s a bit deeper and more serious than its title might suggest.”
Dan Peterson, Patheos.com.
Pop Francis,” by R. R. Reno.

“‘The alternative music label that shaped evangelical culture.’ Tooth & Nail definitely changed the trajectory of my life.”
David Huey @davidhuey
Safe and Subversive,” by Joel Heng Hartse.

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“Your wistful tone takes me back 30 years to my own college days, sensing a call from God to teach and realizing that the opportunity barely existed. I regret having never studied Greek and having ‘wasted’ so many years waiting for the right time before I took my studies and my teaching seriously. Having longed for something makes it all the sweeter when God opens the door to it.”
Michele Morin, CT online comment.
Her.meneutics: “What Happens When We See Women Teach the Bible,” by Sharon Hodde Miller.

“So few issues are easily discernible as ‘good/evil.’ Nothing happens in a vacuum. Russia’s distrust of the West and vice versa isn’t just political, but also stems from thousands of years of different cultures and histories. Let’s understand that there are lots of factors at play. Only God knows and sees all.”
Stephanie Smith DeChambeau, Facebook.
Why Russia’s Evangelicals Thank God for Putin,” by Mark R. Elliott.

Most shared article from our December issue, according to Facebook:

The Unremarkable Call to Love Our Gay Neighbors,” by Karen Swallow Prior
A review of Glenn T. Stanton’s Loving My (LGBT) Neighbors.

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